January 2008

Sensors: The apple of my i

Apple's cell phone stands out with its innovative designs. 

While people fawn over features, like the smart, multi-touch screen and the advanced web browser, there is important technology under the hood. 

The iPhone has tiny, powerful sensors-accelerometer, ambient light sensor, and infrared sensor, which adjust the functions, converting the screen view from portrait to landscape, adjusting the screen brightness, disabling the touch screen when the phone is up against the ear, wrote Jim Pinto in a recent InTech e-News commentary.

A cell phone already has a powerful computer, lots of memory, screen, keyboard, and Internet connection. What can you not do with your cell phone? Why carry a cell phone and a camera, when one gadget can do both? 

To explore possibilities, Intel researchers used a pager-size gadget that gathers data from seven sensors: accelerometer, barometer, humidity sensor, thermometer, light sensor, digital compass, and microphone. Most of these determine location and activity, but the microphone can provide interesting clues on social networks, for example, whether a person is having a social chat or a business conversation. 

Because cell phones are high volume appliances, the race is on for tiny, low-cost sensors, typically silicon micro-sensors. Cell phones already have lots of technology, more than most people ever use. 

This does not stop product developers from thinking up and including features and functions that are often cheap and easy extensions. As soon as a new feature becomes even marginally acceptable, then everybody jumps on the bandwagon … and the user wins.